The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale by Robert Louis Stevenson

Brotherly love?

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives in Scotland in 1745 to reclaim the lost Stuart crown, the Durie family of Durrisdeer must decide where their loyalties lie. If they make the wrong choice, they could lose everything, but pick the winning side and their future is secure. The old Laird has two sons. Jamie, the eldest, known as the Master of Ballantrae, is attractive and popular but evil, while Henry, the younger, is dull but good. The family decides one son should join Charlie’s rebellion while the other should declare loyalty to the Hanoverian King George II, a kind of hedging of bets in which many noble families would indulge (so says Stevenson, and I have no reason to doubt him). By rights, as the younger, Henry should have joined the rising, but the Master thinks this is the more exciting option so claims it for himself. When the rising fails, word reaches Durrisdeer that Jamie died in battle. Henry gains the estate but is vilified by the townspeople for, as rumour has it, betraying his more popular brother, while his father and Alison, the woman he is to marry, make no secret that they loved Jamie best and mourn his loss extravagantly. So things are bad for Henry… but they’re going to get worse when news arrives that Jamie didn’t die after all…

The Master and McKellar’s first meeting

I freely admit I thought this was going to be a story about the Jacobite rebellion, but it isn’t. The enmity between the brothers had begun before long before the rising, and although it is used to set up the conditions for further strife between them, in fact it’s a minor strand in the book. This is actually a story of two opposing characters and their lifelong struggle against each other. It’s told by Ephraim Mackellar, steward to the estate of Durrisdeer and loyal supporter of Henry, who was present for many of the main events and has gathered the rest of the story from witnesses and participants. It will involve duels, smugglers and plots, love and hate, loyalty and betrayal; it will take us aboard a pirate ship and all the way across the Atlantic to the little town of New York in the far away American colonies. And it will end with a terrifying journey through the wilds of (Native American) Indian country on a quest for treasure!

It would be possible to read this, perhaps, as some kind of allegory for the Scotland of the time, divided in loyalty between the deposed Stuarts and the reigning Hanoverians, but I don’t think that can be taken too far since neither brother seems actively to care who wins, nor to be loyal to anything or anybody very much, so long as they come out of it with their lands and position intact. The things that divide them are personal, not political. There’s also a kind of variant on the Jekyll and Hyde theme going on – the two brothers opposite in everything, one tediously decent, the other excitingly bad.

Errol Flynn swashbuckling as the Master…

However as we get to know the brothers over the long years covered by the story, we see that the contrasts between them are not as glaring as they first appear. The same flaws and weaknesses run through all members of this doomed family (not a spoiler – we’re told they’re doomed from the very beginning) – they just show themselves in different ways. Poor Mackellar – while his loyalty to Henry never fails him, as time goes on he becomes a solitary and unregarded voice of reason in the middle of their feud, and grows to see that, to coin a phrase, there are faults on both sides.

In the midst of our evil season sprang up a hurricane of wind; so that all supposed she must go down. […] At first I was terrified beyond motion, and almost beyond thought, my mind appearing to be frozen. Presently there stole in on me a ray of comfort. If the Nonesuch foundered, she would carry down with her into the deeps of that unsounded sea the creature whom we all so feared and hated; there would be no more Master of Ballantrae, the fish would sport among his ribs; his schemes all brought to nothing, his harmless enemies at peace. At first, I have said, it was but a ray of comfort; but it had soon grown to be broad sunshine. The thought of the man’s death, of his deletion from this world, which he embittered for so many, took possession of my mind. I hugged it, I found it sweet in my belly. I conceived the ship’s last plunge, the sea bursting upon all sides into the cabin, the brief mortal conflict there, all by myself, in that closed place; I numbered the horrors, I had almost said with satisfaction; I felt I could bear all and more, if the Nonesuch carried down with her, overtook by the same ruin, the enemy of my poor master’s house.

Stevenson always writes adventure brilliantly and there are some great action scenes in the book, many of them with more than an edge of creepiness and horror. But there’s much more to this one than simply that. The characterisation is the important thing, of the brothers certainly as the central figures in this drama, but equally of the other players – the old Laird, Alison and not least, Mackellar himself. Stevenson does an excellent job of showing how the various experiences they undergo change each of them – some becoming stronger, better people, others giving way to weakness and cruelty. I admit none of them are particularly likeable, (though despite myself I developed a soft spot for poor, pompous, self-righteous Mackellar – he had a lot to contend with, poor man), but they’re so well drawn that I was fully invested in their fates anyway.

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by Sargent

Each of the settings is done brilliantly, from the life of a middle-ranking Laird of this period to the growing settlements in the New World. The pirate episode is especially good, as is the later voyage to America – Stevenson always seems to excel once he gets his characters out on the ocean wave. There are dark deeds a-plenty and not a little gore, but there’s also occasional humour to give a bit of light amidst the bleakness. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of doom, and a couple of times Mackellar tells us in advance what’s going to happen, but nevertheless the story held my interest throughout and the ending still managed to surprise and shock me. Though the adventure side means it could easily be enjoyed by older children, it seems to me this has rather more adult themes than Treasure Island or Kidnapped, in the sense that the good and evil debate is muddier and more complex, and rooted in the development of the characters rather than in the events – again, the comparison to Jekyll and Hyde would be closer. Oh, and there’s very little Scottish dialect in it, so perfectly accessible to non-Scots readers. Another excellent one from Stevenson’s hugely talented pen, fully deserving of its status as a classic, and highly recommended!

Book 16 of 90

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The Master of Ballantrae, James in baptism, took from his father the love of serious reading; some of his tact perhaps as well, but that which was only policy in the father became black dissimulation in the son. The face of his behaviour was merely popular and wild: he sat late at wine, later at the cards; had the name in the country of “an unco man for the lasses;” and was ever in the front of broils. But for all he was the first to go in, yet it was observed he was invariably the best to come off; and his partners in mischief were usually alone to pay the piper. This luck or dexterity got him several ill-wishers, but with the rest of the country, enhanced his reputation; so that great things were looked for in his future, when he should have gained more gravity. […] I think it notable that he had always vaunted himself quite implacable, and was taken at his word; so that he had the addition among his neighbours of “an ill man to cross.” Here was altogether a young nobleman (not yet twenty-four in the year ’45) who had made a figure in the country beyond his time of life.

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She told him it had been six years ago that she had stayed a day with the Rasputins while on a pilgrimage to Kiev. It was the busy season, and Rasputin was mostly out in the fields, but he would often run home to check on things, each time trying to get her to kiss him. She resisted, insisting that it was not right, but he told her that “among us spiritual pilgrims seeking to save ourselves there is a type of spiritual kissing, like the way the Apostle Paul kissed St. Thekla.” Karneeva repeated how while climbing up out of the chapel beneath the stables, he had grabbed her and kissed her cheek. It was then Rasputin told her of the appearance of the Holy Spirit. Later that day, Glukhovtsev brought Karneeva and Rasputin together for what the Russians called an ochnaia stavka, a sort of face-to-face confrontation, to try to get to the bottom of her claims. Seated directly across from Rasputin, Karneeva repeated everything she had told Glukhovtsev. To each of her statements Rasputin said little more than “That was all long ago, I don’t recall a thing,” or “I don’t remember a thing from that far back,” or simply “I don’t remember that.”

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I had visited the place several times when the professor was alive, and I was also a student of zoology, especially anthropods, so I should have been quite used to the sight; nevertheless it still gave me the shivers and I was rooted for a moment to the spot. Inside hundreds of bottles lining the walls, eight-legged monsters were running around and spinning their webs. Big Oni-gumo and Joro spiders, yellow with blue stripes; Harvestmen with legs ten times longer than their bodies; Cellar spiders with yellow spots on their backs. The grotesque Kimura spider and trapdoor spiders, Ji-gumo, Ha-gumo, Hirata-gumo, Kogane-gumo; all these different kinds of spider had not been fed for about a month and, having lost most of their flesh, were looking around with shiny, hungry eyes for food. Some jars had not been properly sealed and the escaped spiders had spun their webs on the ceiling and in the corners of the room. Countless numbers of the ghastly creatures were crawling around on the walls and ceiling.

From The Spider by Koga Saburo

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I sauntered through the camp towards my hut. On my left, scattered amongst nim and palm trees and big clumps of hibiscus hedge, were the most important buildings in the camp complex – the garage and workshops, Mallabar’s bungalow, the canteen, the kitchen and storage sheds, and beyond them the now abandoned dormitory of the census workers. Beyond that, over to the right, I could just see, through a screen of plumbago hedge, the round thatched roofs of the cooks’ and small boys’ quarters.

I continued past the huge hagania tree that dominated the centre of the camp and which had given it its name: grosso arvore. The Grosso Arvore Research Centre.

On the other side of the track, opposite the canteen, was Hauser’s laboratory and behind that was the tin cabin he shared with Toshiro. Thirty yards along from the lab was the Vails’ bungalow, not as big as chez Mallabar but prettier, freighted with jasmine and bougainvillea. And then, finally, at the camp’s northern extremity, was my hut. In fact “hut” was a misnomer: I lived in a cross between a tent and a tin shack, a curious dwelling with canvas sides and a corrugated iron roof. I suppose it was fitting that it should go to me, on the principle that the newest arrival should occupy the least permanent building, but I was not displeased with it and was indifferent to what it might say about my status.

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From the Archives…

Imaginings and resonances and pain and small longings and prejudices. They meant nothing against the resolute hardness of the sea…It might have been better, she felt, if there had never been people, if this turning of the world, and the glistening sea, and the morning breeze happened without witnesses, without anyone feeling, or remembering, or dying, or trying to love.

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 139…

Episode 139…

I think the whole idea of trying to reduce the TBR is silly, really. I don’t know why you all obsess about it so much. I mean, in the great global scheme of things, does it really matter whether the TBR goes up or down? Does it? Of course not!

OK, OK! It’s gone up! By 3 – to 219! But I’m sure it’s just a temporary blip – I’ve got loads of time to meet my New Year’s Resolution to get it down to 150 by the end of the year. Stop laughing. STOP LAUGHING!!!

Here’s are a few more I should get to soonish…

Fiction

For the Classics Club. I don’t know why I haven’t read more Robert Louis Stevenson than I have, but it’s time to do something about that…

The Blurb says: Set in 18th-century Scotland, this brooding historical romance unfolds amid the Jacobite Rebellion. A struggle between good and evil begins in the old Scottish castle of Durrisdeer — the ancestral home of the Durie clan — where James Durie, Master of Ballantrae, persists in his lifelong rivalry with his younger brother as well as his relentless quest for the family fortune.

From Durrisdeer, the fast-paced adventure shifts to sea voyages and encounters with pirates, intrigue at the French court and in India, and an attempt to recover buried treasure in New York’s Adirondack Mountains — all leading to a shocking climax in the American wilderness. An engrossing tale played out against the backdrop of three continents, The Master of Ballantrae stands among the most vivid and exciting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales.

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Crime

For the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem Challenge. A Dr Thorndyke mystery, first published in 1911. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Thorndyke short stories, but this will be my first full-length novel…

The Blurb says: After the great success of his latest expedition, the brilliant archaeologist John Bellingham returns from the sandy tombs of Egypt with enough ancient treasures to fill a wing at the British Museum. He visits a friend for dinner and is told to wait in the study. When the friend arrives, he finds the study empty; Bellingham has vanished into thin air.

When Bellingham does not reappear, the police assume he has met with some fatal accident. Because his will cannot be discharged until the time and place of his death are known, Bellingham’s family calls on the eminent Dr. Thorndyke, whose mastery of the medical arts is second only to his brilliance for crime solving. As he searches for the true reason for Bellingham’s disappearance, Thorndyke discovers a mystery as deep as any pharaoh’s tomb.

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Sci-Fi

For the Classics Club, but I’m hoping this might also fit into the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge.

The Blurb says: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is set in an urban glass city called OneState, regulated by spies and secret police. Citizens of the tyrannical OneState wear identical clothing and are distinguished only by the number assigned to them at birth. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the ‘norms’ of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.

The failed utopia of We has been compared to the works of H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It was the first novel banned by the Soviets in 1921, and was finally published in its home country over a half-century later.

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Horror on Audible

Courtesy of Audible via MidasPR. This is a special Hallowe’en package from Audible, bundling together three classics each with highly-rated narrators. I’m currently listening to a different (brilliant) version of Frankenstein, so will probably pick Greg Wise reading Dracula for my spooky delight… or maybe Richard Armitage reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde! Just to mention – when the blurb says “three for the price of one” they are talking about members who will get the collection for 1 credit. For non members, this is more pricey – three for the price of three, really.

The Blurb says: Audible presents a special edition of three Gothic tales for the price of one: a brand-new Audible Exclusive recording of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bursting with intrigue, suspense and malice, they resurrect the deepest and darkest of all our fears: that a monster lurks, and it lurks within us.

Introduced by Dr Maria Mellins and Dr Peter Howell, Senior Lecturers in Gothic literature at the University of London, this collection offers additional insight into the three audiobooks, their authors and their legacies.

Starting with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, Richard Armitage tells the story of a conflicted man who seeks a remedy to free the monster inside him from the clutches of his conscience. Following his celebrated performances of David Copperfield and David Hewson’s Romeo and Juliet for Audible, Armitage delivers another powerhouse performance as the narrator of this Gothic tale.

Shilling shocker enthusiast Stevenson was celebrated throughout his life. In contrast to Mary Shelley, who was often overshadowed by her husband’s work, Stevenson lived comfortably by his pen.

It was only with the release of Frankenstein that Shelley finally distinguished herself. Frankenstein was groundbreaking in its ability to fuse passion and romance with gore and horror. Narrated by Dan Stevens, who rose to fame through Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast and Legion, the story of science student Victor Frankenstein has been artfully retold. Testing the limits of science, Frankenstein fashions a living being from the conjoined body parts of rotting cadavers. Horrified at the end result, he abandons his monster, leaving him to endure a life of isolation and loneliness. A poignant example of human weakness and our inability to take responsibility for our actions, Frankenstein is both moving and terrifying.

That leads us to the gruesome tale of Count Dracula, the bloodthirsty father of the undead. Narrated by Greg Wise, star of Effie Gray, The Crown and Sense and Sensibility; Greg depicts a young lawyer whose services are hired by a sinister Transylvanian count. Releasing Dracula 80 years after Frankenstein, Bram Stoker was greatly influenced by Shelley’s writing style and similarly propels the story along through diary entries, letters and newspaper cuttings. Possessed of grisly imagery and unexpected twists, it’s no wonder that Dracula still manages to shake us to our very core.

All that remains is to offer a note of caution: this collection is not for the fainthearted. Old as these tales may be, do not mistake the unsettling nature of their content.

Grab some popcorn, turn the speakers up and enjoy. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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(Goodness! I’ve just realised these are all ancient! I’ll try to include something from the 21st century next week… 😉 )

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Treasure Island: An Audible Original Drama

Yo! Ho! Ho!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

An Audible Original full cast dramatisation starring Oliver Teale, Daniel Mays, Catherine Tate and Philip Glenister. Dramatised by Marty Ross from the original by Robert Louis Stevenson.

When I re-read Treasure Island a few years ago, I fell in love with it all over again. It’s undoubtedly one of the best adventure stories ever written, full of characters who’ve become such a part of our national psyche they almost feel historical rather than fictional – Long John Silver, Blind Pew, Ben Gunn, Jim Hawkins (arr, Jim, lad!), et al. Even younger people who may not have read the book will recognise these characters even if they don’t recognise the names, since they’ve been used and adapted in nearly every pirate book or movie ever since – the wooden-legged pirate with a parrot on his shoulder (Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Squa-a-a-wk!), the young boy caught up in piratical adventures on the high seas, the sailor marooned – maroooned, I tell ‘ee! – on a desert island, the villainous baddie bringing messages of doom, the treasure map where X marks the spot…

So needless to say, when I was offered the chance to listen to Audible’s new dramatisation, I grabbed it with both hands, dug out a bottle of rum, and set sail for lands unknown, me hearties! And that was even before I read the cast list and realised they’d gone all out to get some of the absolute best. Gotta say, every single member of the cast, stars and supporting, throw themselves into this with glee – you can literally hear how much fun they’re having bringing these fabulously over-the-top characters to life.

My memory for plot details is totally rubbish, but as far as I could tell the adaptation sticks very faithfully to the original. There’s a little more humour in it than I remembered so perhaps a few scenes have been altered for that purpose. At first, when the action is in the Admiral Benbow Inn where young Jim-lad lives with his mother (played excellently by Catherine Tate), I thought they had maybe lightened it up a bit to make it suitable for younger children. But indeed not! Some parts of it are very dark indeed, and the cast don’t skimp on bringing out the scary bits. And somehow hearing it rather than reading it made those parts even more effective – genuinely thrilling! Black Dog in particular scared the bejabers out of me, and I think I fall safely into the category of older child.

Although it’s a dramatisation, it’s not abridged. It has a running time of 6 hours and 26 minutes which is almost identical to the timing on straight narrations. Jim Hawkins (Gerran Howell) acts his role in the action sequences, but also provides a narration for the linking bits. Rather unfairly, he doesn’t get listed as one of the stars, but he gives an excellent performance too. Oliver Teale is utterly brilliant as Long John Silver, and Daniel Mays’ Ben Gunn is so much fun – marooned! Maroooooned, I tell ‘ee!! Philip Glenister is perfect as Doctor Livesey. The only thing that annoyed me is that Audible never provides a written cast list for these productions, and the cast list on the recording is always at the end, so I find I’m constantly trying to work out who’s playing whom, especially when they’re all having so much fun with accents. In this case, even when they did list the cast, they didn’t specify which role each actor had played. I think several of them play more than one role, but there are also loads of other actors playing some of the smaller roles. I’m almost certain it’s Daniel Mays giving a tour-de-force performance as Capt’n Flint the parrot, who starts out as part of the humour and gets progressively scarier as the thing goes on.

There’s some appropriately sea-shanty style incidental music and the sound effects are great – waves crashing, ships creaking, cutlasses clashing, big guns booming (jumped a foot in the air when that happened – and I was sitting down at the time. Tuppence was not pleased!). And I warn you now, not only will you find yourself joining in whenever they burst into a full-cast rendition of Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest, but you’ll still be singing it two weeks later – or maybe that’s just me…

Can you tell I loved this? I enjoyed every single minute of it and instead of parcelling it out into half-hour instalments as I usually do with audiobooks, I ended up listening to the bulk of it in two massive chunks over one weekend. It will be one I listen to often again – perfect for dark winter nights or long car journeys or just whenever I’m accosted by the need to hear Ben Gunn tell me again that he’s marooned – marooooooooned, I tell ‘ee! Dark and scary with shafts of humour, tons of action, thrilling adventures, great script, fabulous acting – Yo! Ho! HO!

NB This audiobook was provided for review by Audible UK via MidasPR.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….…at night, coming down the River Highway, you were caught in a dazzling galaxy of brilliant suns, a web of lights strung out from the river and then south to capture the city in a brilliant display of electrical wizardry. The highway lights glistened close and glistened farther as they skirted the city and reflected in the dark waters of the river. The windows of the buildings climbed in brilliant rectangular luminosity, climbed to the stars and joined the wash of red and green and yellow and orange neon which tinted the sky. The traffic lights blinked their gaudy eyes and along the stem, the incandescent display tangled in a riot of color and eye-aching splash.
….The city lay like a sparkling nest of rare gems, shimmering in layer upon layer of pulsating intensity.
….The buildings were a stage set.
….They faced the river, and they glowed with man-made brilliance, and you stared up at them in awe, and you caught your breath.
….Behind the buildings, behind the lights, were the streets.
….There was garbage in the streets.

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December 25, 1942… Our division no. 333 of the 56th Army occupied an elevation on the approach to Stalingrad. The enemy decided to take it back at all costs. A battle began. Tanks attacked us, but our artillery stopped them. The Germans rolled back, and a wounded lieutenant, the artillerist Kostia Khudov, was left in no-man’s land. The orderlies who tried to bring him back were killed. Two first-aid sheepdogs (this was the first time I saw them) crept toward him, but were also killed. And then I took off my flap-eared hat, stood up tall, and began to sing our favourite pre-war song: “I saw you off to a great deed,” first softly, then more and more loudly. Everything became hushed on both sides – ours and the Germans’. I went up to Kostia, bent down, put him on a sledge, and took him to our side. I walked and thought: “Only not in the back, better let them shoot me in the head.” So, right now… right now… The last minutes of my life… Right now! Interesting: will I feel the pain or not? How frightening, mama dear! But not a single shot was fired…

Maria Petrovna Smirnova, Medical Assistant

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….He had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyper-space, a phenomenon one did not experience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remain forever, the only practical method of travelling between the stars. Travel through ordinary space could proceed at no rate more rapid than that of ordinary light (a bit of scientific knowledge that belonged among the items known since the forgotten dawn of human history), and that would have meant years of travel between even the nearest of inhabited systems. Through hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time.
….Gaal had waited for the first of those Jumps with a little dread curled gently in his stomach, and it ended in nothing more than a trifling jar, a little internal kick which ceased an instant before he could be sure he had felt it. That was all.

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….Time passed. I acquired a girlfriend, lost her, acquired another, lost her as well. My secret movie script, my most demanding lover, disliked my attempts at these misconceived relationships with human beings, and sulked, and refused to yield up its secrets. My Late Twenties were steaming toward me, and I like a swooning nickelodeon hero lay helpless across the tracks. (My literary parents would no doubt have preferred that I refer, instead, to the climactic railway-tracks scene in Forster’s The Longest Journey.) The Gardens were my microcosm, and every day I saw the creatures of my imagination staring back at me from the windows of houses on both Macdougal and Sullivan, hollow-eyed, pleading to be born. I had pieces of them all but the shape of the work eluded me. At #XX Sullivan Street, on the first floor, with garden access, I had placed my Burmese – I should say Myanmaran – diplomat, U Lnu Fnu of the United Nations, his professional heart broken by his defeat in the longest-ever battle for the post of Secretary-General, twenty-nine consecutive rounds of voting without a winner, and in the thirtieth round he lost to the South Korean.

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….“…they call me Barbecue.”
….“Barbecue? Why’s that?”
….“Oh, you don’t want to hear. It’s a sad story . . . we’d barely rounded that great jut on the French coast when we got shipwrecked. On the island of Ushant, hiding in all them jagged barren rocks from the French troops, having to fend for ourselves on starvation rations till we could hail the next British ship sailing by. What food we had was running low and so, Jim, what could I do but make a sacrifice for my own shipmates?”
….“A… a sacrifice?”
….“We’d saved from the wreck some of my cooking equipment, including a great chopping knife – like this one here. And with the edge of that knife, why, I sawed off my own leg.”
….“S…sawed…?”
….“What else could I do? And then I cooked it.”
….“Cooked…?”
….“The flesh off my calves made a fine pair of fillet steaks. The blood I drained for a kind of sauce. I screwed the marrow out of the bones to make a brand of paté, and I even boiled my bony old foot for soup. And I said to my starving shipmates ‘Take! Eat! This is my body. This is my blood. Which I ask you to eat and drink in remembrance, should I not survive, of your old shipmate John Silver. And d’ye know what happened next, Jim?”
….“What?”
….“Why, they all choked to death on that rotten meat and I got all the good grub to myself. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha-a-a! I’m joking! Jim! Joking! Storifying!”

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So…are you tempted?

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

jekyll and hydeThe eternal battle of Good v Evil…

A man and a child accidentally bump into each other at a street corner – a normal everyday incident. But when the child falls down, the man deliberately tramples over her, ignoring her screams of pain. When he is stopped by passers-by, he shows no remorse. This is the reader’s first introduction to Mr Hyde, a man who has no obvious deformity but gives off an air so repellent that strangers passing him in the street shudder without knowing why. But this man has some kind of hold over the eminently respectable and well-known scientist, Dr Jekyll, who not only pays compensation for Hyde’s actions, but also gives him the run of his own house, and has made out his will in Hyde’s favour, leaving him everything should Jekyll die… or disappear. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer is at a loss to understand, but feels it his duty to discover more about the mysterious Mr Hyde…

Mr Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr Utterson regarded him.

Because the story has become so phenomenally well-known, the reader is way ahead of Mr Utterson, the lawyer. In the novella, it’s not till near the end that it’s revealed that Mr Hyde is the result of a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. But it’s so well written that knowing the story doesn’t hamper enjoyment in any way. Stevenson builds up the tension and horror beautifully, with one of the best uses of London fog I’ve come across, both as providing a cloak for wickedness and vice, and as a metaphor for the darkness within each human soul. Darkness features throughout, with fog rolling into houses, and Mr Utterson having to face the terrifying climax with only the feeble flicker of a candle to light his way.

The Fredric March version from 1932. Hmm... no obvious deformity?
The Fredric March version from 1932. Hmm… no obvious deformity?

A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare.

Dr Jekyll refuses to tell Mr Utterson anything about his strange friend, but assures him that he could get rid of Hyde any time he chose. Mr Utterson has to accept that and let the matter rest. But one day, months later, a woman looking out of a window sees a horrifically brutal murder take place. The description she gives of the murderer could only be of Hyde. Mr Utterson races to Hyde’s address in sleazy Soho, but too late! He has vanished! Dr Jekyll seems nervy and upset, but after a while begins to get back into his old routines. Then some weeks later, Mr Utterson receives a visit from Dr Jekyll’s servant – it appears that Mr Hyde is back…

The Spencer Tracy version from 1941
The Spencer Tracy version from 1941. Ah, much better!

I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two… If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path… no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

There is more than an element of morality tale about the story. Dr Jekyll has always liked to indulge his vices – mostly left, incidentally, to the reader’s imagination, which works so much better than lengthy graphic descriptions would have done. But now that he has become a well-known figure, he has to think about his reputation. So he decides the solution is to split his personality between good and evil. But the experiment doesn’t work the way he hopes – the Hyde side is indeed purely evil, but the Jekyll side doesn’t change – he still retains all his vices and weaknesses even when in that guise, and gradually the Hyde side begins to take control. The suggestion is that, if one gives in to one’s evil side, it will always become dominant, so we must guard against it at all times. It’s not nearly as preachy as I’ve probably just made it sound, though. First and foremost, it’s a thrilling, chilling tale of horror!

Great stuff! I hereby forgive Stevenson for boring me in Kidnapped! And now to watch the film…

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

 

It's a fretful porpentine!
It’s a fretful porpentine!

TBR Thursday 72…

Episode 72

 

The New Year’s resolutions are beginning to crack already – despite reading three books this week, the TBR has gone up 1 to 160, suggesting someone must have added four books to the list. If I ever catch the culprit, there will be Big Trouble…

Here’s the next batch that should be rising to the top soon. Still no factual since I’m going to be reading Henry IV for the rest of my natural life, and possibly beyond…

Fiction

 

jekyll and hydeA nice little re-read to provide a welcome break from some of the weightier stuff on my list…

The Blurb says An intriguing combination of fantasy thriller and moral allegory, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depicts the gripping struggle of two opposing personalities – one essentially good, the other evil – for the soul of one man. Its tingling suspense and intelligent and sensitive portrayal of man’s dual nature reveals Stevenson as a writer of great skill and originality, whose power to terrify and move us remains, over a century later, undiminished.

 * * * * *

 

a guide to berlinCourtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. Hmm… I requested this before I read Lolita and decided I hate Mr Nabokov. Somehow this one doesn’t appeal quite as much anymore, but we’ll see…

The Blurb says A Guide to Berlin is the name of a short story written by Vladimir Nabokov in 1925, when he was a young man of 26, living in Berlin.

A group of six international travellers, two Italians, two Japanese, an American and an Australian, meet in empty apartments in Berlin to share stories and memories. Each is enthralled in some way to the work of Vladimir Nabokov, and each is finding their way in deep winter in a haunted city.

A moment of devastating violence shatters the group, and changes the direction of everyone’s story. Brave and brilliant, A Guide to Berlin traces the strength and fragility of our connections through biographies and secrets.

* * * * *

Sci-fi

 

caves of steelAnother re-read, this time of a sci-fi classic. There was a time when R. Daneel Olivaw was my ultimate hero. Sadly, I later dumped him in favour of Commander Data from Star Trek TNG. There’s something so appealing about the idea of men with off-switches…

The Blurb says “A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history:  the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain.  Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together.  Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.  But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer.  The relationship between Elijah and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start.  Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner:  R. Daneel Olivaw.  Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot–and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!”

* * * * *

Crime

 

a dark redemptionI enjoyed Stav Sherez’ Eleven Days, with some reservations, and several people suggested I should read his earlier book – this one. It’s been on the TBR since January 2014, so it’s probably about time to read it!

The Blurb saysIn the first of a new series, DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller investigate the brutal rape and murder of a young Ugandan student. Plunged into an underworld of illegal immigrant communities, they discover that the murdered girl’s studies at a London College may have threatened to reveal things that some people will go to any lengths to keep secret.

A Dark Redemption explores a sinister case that will force DI Carrigan to face up to his past and DS Miller to confront what path she wants her future to follow.” 

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

.

* * * * *

(Stop Press: The TBR seems to have gone up to 161 while I was writing this. What’s going on???)

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

kidnappedMy heart’s in the Highlands…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When young Davie Balfour is left orphaned on the death of his father, he is given a letter that his father left for him and told to take it to one Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws. Dutifully he obeys, only to find that miserly old Ebenezer is his uncle, who is not best pleased at having his nephew foisted upon him, for fear he may discover the family secret. So Ebenezer tricks David into going aboard the brig Covenanter, where he is promptly knocked senseless and carried off to be sold into slavery in the Carolinas. But with the help of a new-found friend, Alan Breck Stewart, David escapes and finds himself wandering the Highlands of Scotland – a dangerous place just a few years after the failed Jacobite rebellion, where clan is set against clan, and supporters of the Pretender are being hunted or victimised by those who support the King. And when David is accidentally caught up in a murder, he finds he too is being hunted. His only hope is to make it safely back to the Lowlands, while Alan Breck must try to escape back to France, where his chief is in exile.

kidnapped tower

Written in 1886, the story is set over a century earlier, in 1752. In reality, it’s mainly an adventure story, but I always find old historical novels interesting because of the double hit – seeing how people of an earlier generation interpreted an even earlier historical period. Stevenson gives us a very unromanticised version of the clans as uncouth hard-drinking, hard fighting men scratching out a subsistence living from the barren wastelands of the Highlands – a good deal more accurate, I’d imagine, than some of the later more idealised versions of the Jacobite story. It surprised me a little though since I thought that, by the time he was writing this book, the romanticisation of the landscape and culture, begun by Sir Walter Scott and encouraged by Queen Victoria’s love affair with the Highlands, was well underway. Stevenson’s depiction conveys none of the wild grandeur we now associate with the mountains and glens and even our heroes are pretty unheroic.

kidnapped shipwreck

However, without over-emphasising it, he does show some sympathy for the hardships the Highlanders were forced to suffer at the hands of a government determined to destroy the clan system to prevent further rebellion. He talks of the banning of the kilt and points up the difficulties this caused to those too poor to acquire other kinds of clothing; he describes the hiding of arms to get round the ban on Highlanders carrying weapons; he shows the severe privations caused to the poor by being expected to support their own chieftains in exile while also paying taxes to the government; and he hints at the depopulation of the landscape through forced mass emigration to the New World – the beginnings of the euphemistically named Highland Clearances. But his hero is a loyal supporter of King George and a true son of the Covenanters, complete with priggish antipathy towards anything that might be considered fun.

kidnapped 4

All of this is entertaining to anyone with an interest in Scottish history, but I feel Stevenson assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the aftermath of the Rebellion that most non-Scottish readers and probably even many modern Scottish readers may not have. And I suspect the result of that may mean that the story feels slow in places as he digresses a little from the action to set the book in its historical and social context. I felt the pacing was uneven overall. There are some great action scenes – the battle aboard the ship, the shipwreck, the flight from the murder scene – but there are also quite lengthy lulls, usually when poor David is taken ill, which happens with great regularity. Again, probably realistic given the circumstances, but not the stuff of which great heroic adventures are normally made. And I found his personality grating – the older David who is narrating the story frequently remarks himself on how self-obsessed and immature his younger self’s behaviour was, and I could only agree. There is some Scots dialect in the dialogue but not enough and not broad enough, I think, to cause problems for non-Scottish readers.

kidnapped 3

The beginning of the book was the best part for me, when David was at sea, and it picked up again towards the end, when they had made it back to civilisation and set out to prove David’s identity. But I found the central section dragged, when David and Alan are wandering interminably around the Highlands, and half the time is spent on David bemoaning the physical hardship he is undergoing or describing his ill-health. And the ending is so abrupt that I actually wondered if a final chapter might be missing from my Kindle edition, but apparently not. Definitely worth reading, but if I was recommending just one novel about the Jacobite rebellion it would still be DK Broster’s The Flight of the Heron – it may be overly romanticised, but it’s also much more fun. And with a far, far better hero in my beloved Ewen Cameron, the Darcy of the Highlands…

Ian McCulloch as Ewen Cameron in the 1960s TV adaptation of The Flight of the Heron.
Ian McCulloch as Ewen Cameron in the 1960s TV adaptation of The Flight of the Heron.
Book 1 of my 20 Books of Summer
Book 5 of my 20 Books of Summer

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The New World by Andrew Motion

the new worldConflicted…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

At the end of Silver: Return to Treasure Island, Jim and Natty had been shipwrecked on the coast of Texas in the year 1803. We rejoin them at the start of this one as they are trying to recover the bodies of their companions, when suddenly they are discovered by a scavenging party of Indians from a local tribe. Taken prisoner, they are held captive and know that they are doomed to die. Granted an opportunity to escape, they take it – and also take something that doesn’t belong to them; something so important that the leader of the tribe, Black Cloud, and his evil henchman will hunt them down to recover it…

Although this is a continuation of a continuation of Treasure Island, in fact, it has nothing to do with Robert Louis Stevenson’s original except for Jim and Natty being the children of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver respectively. Motion makes this fairly clear himself by metaphorically getting rid of Stevenson in the first chapter, along with the all-important silver from the original and the first follow-up. In one sense, this works, since I felt the tone of Silver was so far from the tone of Treasure Island anyway that it didn’t truly feel like a continuation, so better to draw a clear divide than to invite comparison. In another sense, it doesn’t quite work so well, because we are left with the same two rather unsatisfactory lead characters.

Apache Encampment in the Texas Hill Country by George Nelson
Apache Encampment in the Texas Hill Country by George Nelson

I’m completely conflicted about this book. Motion writes beautifully, as one would expect from a former Poet Laureate. When he’s talking about nature in particular – the wide open landscape, the animals, the birds – his prose is wonderful. And even when he’s writing action scenes, his technical skill shines through – his sudden changes of tense and shifts in style are incredibly effective at creating tension or drama. As Jim and Natty journey across the country, the various people they meet are very well drawn, many of them in a slightly caricatured way that reminded me a little of the secondary characters in a Dickens novel. His descriptions of the tragedy of the Native Americans following the arrival of the Europeans are moving without being overstated, as he shows the slow attrition of the tribes as they were driven from their lands and denied their traditional ways of life.

I woke in the air – swept up by the angels of heaven all beating their wings together and singing. Then not singing but whispering. Whistling. Cooing. Gurgling. Crooning. Because they were not angels any more, they were pigeons, the same as last night, and now leaving with their mess drizzling beneath them in a continual white rain, first with laborious flusterings and squabblings, then twisting and looping and swaying and swerving until they had formed a gigantic letter S which held its shape . . . and held its shape . . . before it slackened and became a smoke-cloud blowing towards the horizon.

Andrew Motion
Andrew Motion

On the other hand, the plot moves so slowly and I’m afraid I find both Jim and Natty deeply annoying. At risk of being drummed out of the feminist sisterhood here, this is primarily because Jim is the world’s foremost leading wimp and Natty has to perform the functions of the hero. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the woman to be a simpering miss, but then I don’t want the man to be a simpering miss either. And Jim is. He’s tortured by everything that happens to him and is completely passive throughout. He does nothing when it looks as if Natty might be going off with another man, and it never occurs to him to face up to Black Cloud rather than running and hiding. He leaves it to Natty to make all the big decisions, but then whinges when she does. And she – mean, moody, selfish, silent, but (of course) beautiful Natty – treats him appallingly at all times. Why does he love her? Why does she love him? Two books now, and I still don’t know…

The thing is though, that despite everything that annoys me about these, I know I’ll be just as keen to read the next one – and the ending makes it fairly clear that there is a next one in the pipeline. Personally, I feel Motion’s writing style would be much better suited to a different kind of story – something much more traditionally ‘literary’. He gets too moralistic and introspective about the rights and wrongs of the adventure aspects of the story – the tone just isn’t quite suited to the material. But still, I love the way he uses language, and his secondary characters, and his descriptions of nature…and so I’ll continue to put up with Jim and Natty if I must. See what I mean? Conflicted…

NB This book was provided for review by Random House Vintage.

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Tuesday Terror! The Body-Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson

No rest for the wicked…

 

The fretful porpentine has stirred from his summer sleep and is back to haunt our winter nightmares. Aye, the nichts are fair drawin’ in, and the cauld wind is blawin’ through the deid leaves wi’ a sound like auld bones rattlin’…

And where better to begin our journey into darkness than in a graveyard with a master of horror…

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Body-Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by Sargent
Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by Sargent

The tale begins in the parlour of an inn, where sits Fettes, an ‘old drunken Scotchman’, getting steadily drunk on rum as he does every night. The locals call him ‘Doctor’ because he seems to have some medical knowledge, but his past is shrouded in mystery. Until one night another doctor turns up at the inn to treat a patient and Fettes recognises his name. They meet, and Dr Wolfe Macfarlane is clearly horrified to have encountered this old acquaintance. He tries to get rid of Fettes by offering him money…

‘Money!’ cried Fettes; ‘money from you! The money that I had from you is lying where I cast it in the rain.’

Macfarlane tries to brush past Fettes and get away from the inn but…

…even as he was passing Fettes clutched him by the arm and these words came in a whisper, and yet painfully distinct, ‘Have you seen it again?’

The great rich London doctor cried out aloud with a sharp, throttling cry; he dashed his questioner across the open space, and, with his hands over his head, fled out of the door…

The story then goes back to an earlier time when both these men were anatomy students in Edinburgh at the time of the Resurrection Men – the body-snatchers. Fettes is responsible for receiving the bodies for dissection by the anatomy classes and paying the men who brought them. For a time he dulls his conscience by choosing to believe that they are getting the bodies from graves, and sometimes he and Macfarlane go grave-robbing themselves when bodies are in short supply. But gradually he can no longer fool himself – some of the bodies are of people murdered for the money their corpses will bring.

movie poster the body snatcher

And then one night Macfarlane brings a corpse of a man they both know… and Fettes, knowing that Macfarlane had cause to want the man dead, has to choose whether to obey his conscience or his avarice…

It was Macfarlane himself who made the first advance. He came up quietly behind and laid his hand gently but firmly on the other’s shoulder. ‘Richardson,’ said he, ‘may have the head.’

But murder victims do not always rest easy in their graves, and consciences cannot always be kept quiet. And on a dark night, when the two men set out to rob a newly dug grave, they will meet with a horror that will haunt them for the rest of their lives…

Boris Karloff in the 1945 film...
Boris Karloff in the 1945 film…

Even though the reader pretty much knows all the way through where this story is heading, Stevenson manages to create a truly chilling atmosphere of fear and tension. He doesn’t overdo the descriptions – just enough to set the scene and then leaves the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. Written in 1884, it’s set 60 years earlier at the time of the Burke and Hare murders and apparently much of the story is taken from fact. The build-up to the climax is truly spine-tingling – the darkness, the graveyard, the silence – and then the journey back to Edinburgh with the freshly dug corpse between them on the seat…oooh! The fretful porpentine was wide awake by the time we finished this one…

Still their unnatural burden bumped from side to side; and now the head would be laid, as if in confidence, upon their shoulders, and now the drenching sack-cloth would flap icily about their faces…

It's a fretful porpentine!!!
It’s a fretful porpentine!!!

Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:         😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

* * * * * * *

PS For anyone who wasn’t around for this series last year the ‘fretful porpentine’ reference is from Hamlet’s ghostly father’s speech…

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

Tuesday Terror! Thrawn Janet by Robert Louis Stevenson

The witch and the devil…

 

Although Robert Louis Stevenson is possibly best known for his adventure stories, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped, he also wrote some great horror, not least the classic The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So his short story Thrawn Janet is the perfect candidate for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror 2

Old Reverend Murdoch Soulis is minister of Balweary in the Vale of Dule. Outwardly severe and composed, his eye is ‘wild, scared and uncertain’ and he seems to see the terrors that may lie ahead in eternity. Once a year, on the 17th August, he preaches a sermon on ‘the devil as a roaring lion’ that terrifies all who hear it, frightening the children into fits. Both Reverend Soulis and the manse where he lives alone and untended are surrounded by an atmosphere of terror…and sometimes one of the older folk in the village can be persuaded to tell the old story that made them so…the tale of 17th August 1712…the tale of Thrawn Janet.

It was before the days o’ the moderates – weary fa’ them; but ill things are like guid – they baith come bit by bit, a pickle at a time; and there were folk even then that said the Lord had left the college professors to there ain devices, an’ the lads that went to study wi’ them wad hae done mair and better sittin’ in a peat-bog, like their forbears of the persecution, wi’ a Bible under their oxter and a speerit o’ prayer in their heart.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson

The beginning of this story is written in fairly standard English, but once the old villager takes over the narration it changes to a broad Scots dialect, much of which is now so archaic even I had some difficulties with the occasional word or phrase, so I feel a bit self-indulgent in picking it for this week’s horror slot. But this really is a classic horror story, based solidly in the witchcraft superstitions that lasted well into the eighteenth century in Scotland. Although the dialect makes the story a bit difficult to read, it’s worth the effort – it’s amazingly well written and really demands to be read aloud to get the full effect of the speech patterns and rhythms.

He lay an’ he tummled; the gude, caller bed that he got into brunt his very banes; whiles he slept, and whiles he waukened; whiles he heard the time o’ nicht, and whiles a tyke yowlin’ up the muir, as if somebody was deid; whiles he thocht he heard bogles claverin’ in his lug, an’ whiles he saw spunkies in the room. He behoved, he judged, to be sick; an’ sick he was – little he jaloosed the sickness.

When the new, young and naïve minister decides to ask Janet McClour to be his housekeeper, the women of the village are horrified since they believe she is a witch. But to refute their superstition, as he sees it, Soulis demands that Janet publicly renounce the devil and his works. Since the option is to be put to death, Janet does so…but next day she is struck with a mysterious affliction that twists her neck to one side as if she had been hanged – hence the name Thrawn (Twisted) Janet. The minister believes this is a result of the palsy, but the villagers suspect the devil’s work…

Thrawn Janet by William Strang 1899

Syne she turned round, an’ shawed her face; Mr Soulis had the same cauld grue as twice that day afore, an’ it was borne in upon him what folk said, that Janet was deid lang syne, an’ this was a bogle in her clay-cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly. She was tramp-trampin’ in the cla’es, croonin’ to hersel’; and eh! Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face.

Stevenson builds the atmosphere masterfully, showing how the minister, with all his book-learning, gradually begins to suspect that he is wrong and the villagers are right about the evil that seems to surround Janet. The climax is nicely terrifying, with some really horrifying images, though completely gore-free. This is about good and evil in the traditional sense – God and the devil battling for the soul of mankind. Definitely one to chill the spine! (But unless you’re an archaic Scot, you  might want to get a version with a glossary…)

You can find a very good reading of the story on youtube courtesy of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies – click here to listen.

Fretful porpentine rating:  😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion

silverWhatever happened to ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’?

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

There is always a difficulty in writing a sequel to a much-loved classic in that comparisons will naturally be drawn. Motion has made a brave attempt and to some degree has pulled it off successfully.

Jim and Natty, son and daughter of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, set off to find the rest of the treasure still left on the island. The book, as you would expect from a previous Poet Laureate, is beautifully written with the descriptions of the sea and the natural world standing out in particular. I didn’t spot any glaring inconsistencies in plot between the original and this follow-on. The story is interesting and in places exciting and is greatly enhanced by the excellent, primitive-style illustrations by Joe McLaren. As a stand-alone novel I would rate this as a very good adventure yarn.

‘I found each wave, instead of being the big, smooth glassy mountain it seems from shore, was full of peaks and smooth plains and valleys. Very often a school of dolphins appeared among these slopes and summits, giving the impression – thanks to the curved lines of their mouths – that they kept us company, and leaped in and out of the waves, for no reasons except their own pleasure and our entertainment. Sometimes we watched a piece of driftwood, or a tonsured head that turned out to be a coconut, tumble over and over in the swell: no great thing in itself, but in the heat of midday, with a soft wind blowing, and the deck sweetly rolling, enough to induce a kind of trance.’

Andrew Motion (telegraph.co.uk)
Andrew Motion
(telegraph.co.uk)

However, and for me it’s a big however, the whole style and tone of the book is hugely different from the original. Instead of yo-ho-ho sailors willing to mutiny for gold, we have a preternaturally good, obedient and frankly left-liberal crew. Anti-slavery, anti-violence, animal welfare types, willing to put treasure second to the rights of man? And whiling the evenings away by singing love-songs? All very noble, and designed, I assume, to remind us that the sequel is set during the Enlightenment, but hardly in tune with the original. And I doubt that seamen had adopted Enlightenment values with quite such enthusiasm over such a short period of time.

When I knew this book was coming out, I re-read Treasure Island and commented that I had forgotten what a rollicking good yarn it is. This sequel, while a good read on its own account, doesn’t capture that feel for me. This is a very sanitised, very 21st century take on adventure – I was hoping for more

“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

but got instead

“Do you miss me, sweet ladies,
Do you keep me in your heart?
As for me, I’m always with you,
Never mind how far apart.”

So overall I found this a very good book but not a great sequel. However, even with this caveat, the plot, the illustrations and, most of all, the excellent descriptive prose make this a book well worth reading. Recommended.

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